This column is authored by Clayton Wood Founder, CEO, Writer at ClaytonWood.org
About 8 years ago I started building a company in a budding Asian market. One of the offices I opened was in Manila, and through the next 4 years of growth (and a few hundred employees later) I became entrenched in the APAC business community, specifically the startup segment. It’s exciting to watch new ideas form, be funded and succeed.
I watched as TechCrunch jumped on board to what TechInAsia has been covering for years, the growing segment in e-commerce, finance and communication startups that gathered steam, and that hasn’t slowed down. But there’s a dark side to the startup segment that people don’t like to talk much about. Time spent working.
The startup industry is booming, and the hours executive professionals work is growing massively with it.
For the ever-growing Asian market of new executives and entrepreneurs, this means cramming more work into the same amount of hours. Over the years I spent in Manila it seemed like our executives were working more hours, just to keep ahead of the competition. What’s challenging is that most of us don’t have trained experience in time management.
The Secret Killers of Time Management
Studies show that executives and entrepreneurs work 25% more than lower level employees. C-level executives, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs are some of the most affected by time constraints, and as the job responsibilities grow larger, so does the time it takes needed for each project. If we were honest, we’re all working at least 8-10 different projects at once, am I right?
When time on a project is too tight we start looking for shortcuts. We know that there are a lot of productivity, CRM, and communication tools to help, but there are still a few activities that seem to suck up time no matter how many tools we have. I’ve narrowed it down to creativity and planning.
Creativity, because free form thought it hard to do within a time frame.
Planning, because there are so many different pieces of data spread around to gather.
On an executive level, executing strategy is the key to mastering the projects, people and the company’s growth over all. But strategic planning is clunky and takes quite a bit of time to outline on paper. My executive team has tried the typical tools, but they just aren’t helpful. Most of them are too large, slow and work best with very large corporations. Google Docs is great, but it’s still just spreadsheets and documents.
The Solutions For The Next Gen Exec
If you’ve got 8-10 projects going on at once, there are some things that can help cut down the time it takes to put everything together. If you drill down into what takes so long around strategy and planning, it’s gathering resources, gathering people and administrative work with meetings and tasks.
Then there’s the gap between where your strategy is written down and where it gets executed. The actual strategy is almost always written on a document and then carried out in a work collaboration software. Items get lost, due dates get missed, and budgets become off target.
Strategy And Planning In One Environment
Haven’t you always wanted to take the specific proposal or outline and work from it in the same environment that it was made? There are tools you can do that in, and the key is to discipline yourself to move your planning process off of Google Docs and into a tool like Roadmap Planner, where you build a specific gantt chart, attach tasks to deadlines, and work with teammates inside the software to accomplish tasks.
This might seem weird at first, but developing a strategy inside of a tool with a timeline view means you’re thinking about time from the beginning. Each piece that goes into accomplishing the project has a time assigned to it. So there are none of those “Oh, we didn’t plan for that to take this much time.”
The human brain thinks in terms of project completion, and if you’re not an engineer, you may tend to glaze over at least one thing.
Collaborate Without Expert Level Management Skills
Many new executives struggle with managing a team because it’s a different skill set than what they often have experience in. I watched a Dragon Boat competition recently and was amazed at how synced everyone was paddling and following instructions. Since executing business strategy doesn’t always come with as much practice together as a dragon boat team, we have to learn how to get everyone “rowing in the same direction” to accomplish the strategy.
Doing this can take years of interpersonal relationship management experience, and often times it’s intimidating. The key is to transfer all of the collective goals into an agreed upon timeline, so that the deadlines coming up are a focal point for everyone. The best projects I’ve worked on have been ones where the timeline and all the tasks inside of it were clearly viewed and agreed upon from the beginning.
Methods To Strategic Planning Mayhem
The best set of tools for a busy executive I’ve seen are around those skills that some of us find difficult. Writing, email and admin. This list at Colorlib.com covers basically all of them. There are a few great nuggets I use every day in my work life that may cover some of these problematic areas.
And some of these solutions bleed over into your private life, which isn’t such a bad thing if it helps keep you organized. More and more of these tasks are starting to get automated by AI assistants, so there’s an interesting future in what these solutions will be able to do for us.
But there’s one more leg of the strategic planning realm that you need to have dialed in before you truly master it. Methods. Strategy methods are taught in business school, but if you don’t have a business degree you can go learn about them on your own. My personal favorite is the SWOT method.
It stand for Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. When applied this can strategically help your project’s chances of effectiveness. Strategic planning experts understand many different types of methods and learn how to apply them to projects based on team members, industry and project importance. Those executives that seem like superman, probably have the right strategy methods and tools at their fingertips. There’s no magic, only the right tools.